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Watch out for water hazards

Safety still important, even in August

Kim Kelley and Todd Sheperd, both of Petoskey, play it safe while coming in from kayaking on Lake Superior near the area by McCarty’s Cove and Shiras Park at Picnic Rocks. Boaters, swimmers and other water recreationists should be aware of safety rules and equipment while on the water. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

MARQUETTE — Even in the Upper Peninsula, there still is plenty of warm weather left. Some might even say September is warmer than June, so from that standpoint, maybe summer is only half over.

With warm temperatures comes the urge to get outside — and possibly ignoring all the hazards good weather can pose.

Take the recent happenings at Little Presque Isle where several rescues were made earlier this summer. One incident, however, ended tragically. Earlier this month, a 42-year-old woman from Lexington, Kentucky, died in a snorkeling incident at Little Presque Isle Beach, a tricky spot to say the least, considering changes of current and other obstacles.

Still, there have been happy tales to report this season.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reported that Conservation Officer Mark Zitnik and his family were enjoying a Saturday afternoon, July 25 to be exact, boating on Munising Bay in Alger County. As their boat navigated around a sandbar, off Sand Point Beach, Zitnik heard someone yell, “Help!”

Todd Sumbera

Zitnik instantly jumped into “search and rescue” mode, asking everyone on the boat to be quiet. He then heard another cry for help and saw people onshore pointing toward two swimmers struggling in the water about 200 yards from Zitnik.

The swimmers had been wading in shallow water covering a sandbar, the DNR said, but they ended up in deep water with a strong current.

Accelerating the boat to reach the swimmers, Zitnik dove from the moving vessel once he was 10 to 15 yards from the swimmer who appeared be having the most trouble. Displaying normal signs of an active drowning, the swimmer attempted to climb on top of Zitnik saying, “I can’t swim. Save me. Help me.”

Zitnik used a water rescue hold he learned during his Michigan Conservation Officer Academy water training to secure the man. With his chest against the swimmer’s back, Zitnik wrapped his arm around the man’s chest. This caused the swimmer to begin to panic even more, resisting the rescue attempt.

Zitnik identified himself as a conservation officer and rescue swimmer in an attempt to calm the man. After a brief struggle, Zitnik swam the man back to the boat.

Mark Zitnik

Meanwhile, boaters from a passing vessel assisted the second swimmer, who helped himself onto that boat. Once the swimmer Zitnik saved caught his breath, he told the conservation officer he was a Type 1 diabetic. He continued to thank Zitnik, saying, “You saved my life, man.”

Both swimmers were transported safely back to shore where they reunited with their family and friends.

Zitnik patrols Alger County and has been with the DNR Law Enforcement Division since January 2015.

“A conservation officer is never truly off duty,” DNR Law Enforcement Division Chief Gary Hagler said in a news release.

Hagler had some words of advice for swimmers.

“If you don’t know the water you’re swimming in, ask locals about the conditions before you leave shore and always wear a life jacket or flotation device while boating, kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding,” Hagler said.

Another water rescue in the Upper Peninsula is a reminder about the need for strong safety practices and awareness.

Two stranded men from Chicago repeatedly expressed their gratitude to Conservation Officer Todd Sumbera after he rescued them from rough water near Drummond Island on Aug. 7.

Sumbera was conducting marine patrol offshore in Chippewa County, north of Drummond Island and west of Harbor Island, at approximately 1:43 p.m. when he saw two people in the water clinging to an overturned personal watercraft.

As Sumbera approached, he identified himself as a conservation officer there to help. The younger of the two, a 41-year-old man who didn’t know how to swim, was panicked and exhausted, saying, “Thank God.” Both men were improperly wearing torn life jackets and had been in the water for about 10 minutes.

“I’m happy that Sumbera safely returned the men to shore in what could have been a much worse situation had the men not been wearing life jackets,” Hagler said. “This is an example of how wearing a life jacket can save a life.”

After Sumbera helped the men onto his patrol vessel, he determined both to be in stable condition.

The older man, 64, told Sumbera that they had never operated a personal watercraft before and the high winds and rough water “swamped them extremely fast” when they put the watercraft in reverse.

Sumbera towed the waterlogged watercraft back to the Drummond Island Yacht Haven and returned the two men to shore.

To avoid further trouble in the future, he advised the men to obtain and use properly fitting, well-maintained life jackets before their next next adventure.

The DNR issued these tips to stay safe in the water: Understand the beach flag system, never jump from or swim near piers, wear a life jacket, don’t swim alone, know how to escape rip currents and have a float plan.

“These are just a few of the must-knows,” it said.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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